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Kerala: As IUML-led mosque protest fizzles out, questions over hold on community

The IUML, a chief constituent of the Congress-led UDF in Kerala, had rallied several Muslim religious and social groups to deliver talks during Friday prayers at mosques against the CPI(M)-led government's decision to hand over Wakf Board recruitment to the Kerala Public Service Commission.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: December 7, 2021 6:31:16 am
The fact that the IUML chose to hold the protest at mosques is a new language for Kerala's largest Muslim party that has largely stayed in the left-of-centre space of Kerala politics and been part of the UDF coalition for the last 40 years. (File photo)

THE DECEMBER 3 protest at mosques organised by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) against the LDF government has put the spotlight on the Opposition party as it attempts to retain its hold over the community.

The IUML, a chief constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala, had rallied several Muslim religious and social groups to deliver talks during Friday prayers at mosques against the CPI(M)-led government’s decision to hand over Wakf Board recruitment to the Kerala Public Service Commission. But a day before the scheduled protest, the Samastha Kerala Jemiyyathul Ulema, popularly known as Samastha, a powerful body of pro-IUML Muslim scholars in Kerala, pulled out, with the outfit’s president, Syed Muhammad Jifri Muthukoya Thangal, saying in Kozhikode that they don’t want mosques to be turned into protest venues.

While the protest went ahead with only mosques associated with the Mujahideen movement and Jamaat-e-Islami participating, the scaled-down event was a major loss of face for the IUML, exposing it to the allegation that it had joined hands with right-wing and fringe Muslim outfits.

The fact that the IUML chose to hold the protest at mosques is a new language for Kerala’s largest Muslim party that has largely stayed in the left-of-centre space of Kerala politics and been part of the UDF coalition for the last 40 years.

The IUML has been credited with politically empowering Muslims in the state and has always taken the lead in championing the cause of the community. The IUML sensed one such opportunity in the Wakf Board recruitment issue, while also being able to take on the LDF. But the fizzling out of the mosque protest has challenged IUML’s ability to take on the leadership mantle on issues affecting Muslims in Kerala and raised questions on the party’s hold over its vote base.

The party suffered a jolt in the 2021 Assembly elections, winning only 15 of the 27 seats it contested, down from 18 seats of the 23 seats it contested in 2016.

The IUML would also be worried about how the CPI(M) is fast gaining ground in the community. During the anti-CAA protest, despite reservations expressed by the IUML, Samastha leaders had shared the dais with the CPI(M), including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Samsatha had also hailed the Vijayan government for passing a resolution in the state Assembly against CAA, the first legislature to do so.

What should also worry the IUML is the CPI(M)’s aggressive reaching-out to the community. The CPI(M) has been giving leadership roles in the party and its feeder outfits to community members, among them P A Mohammed Riyas, the CM’s son-in-law who is a prominent member of the Vijayan Cabinet and an emerging Muslim face of the party. Besides, A A Rahim, a prominent Muslim face in the CPI(M) youth wing DYFI, was recently made the outfit’s national president. Also, while the IUML hasn’t managed to send Muslim women to the Assembly so far, CPI(M)’s Kanathil Jameela won from Koilandy constituency earlier this year.

The Samastha’s backing out from the protest is another sign of the CPI(M)’s increasing hold over the community. What made the Samastha abandon the protest was an assurance from the Chief Minister that the government would consider the concerns raised by the Muslim community on the Wakf Board recruitment.

Samastha’s decision against the IUML protest has saved Vijayan — who has been wooing the community and projecting it as a bulwark against the Sangh Parivar — from a politically embarrassing situation.

The Samastha is a body of clerics of the EK faction of the Samastha Kerala Jemiyyathul Ulama that split in 1989 and is known to be pro-IUML. The other Sunni faction, A P Sunni, led by conservative cleric Kanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musliyar, is already identified as pro-Left.

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